Looking for ways to improve the quality of the air you breathe inside your home? The number one tip—a largely shared good habit—is to open the windows a few minutes every day to let in fresh air. But beyond this advice akin to common sense, what can you do?
Tip #1: The obvious tip
Before starting this list of not-so-obvious tips to improve indoor air quality, let’s talk a little bit more about the most obvious tip: opening the windows. Having this habit is good. It’s a good start as it helps lower concentrations of toxic chemicals as well as carbon dioxide (CO2).
Indeed, indoors, the quality of the air is typically several times poorer than the air outdoors. Certain everyday situations can suddenly degrade indoor air quality. In theses cases, you shouldn’t wait until the next morning to open the windows.
Pollution peaks might happen when you bring home a new piece of pressed-wood furniture or add a coat of paint on the walls. The air your breath indoors can also be degraded by the lack of cleaning.
• Open the windows for 5 to 10 minutes. Do it on an everyday basis, even if you don’t know exactly how polluted the air is inside your home. You should also do it when you or someone else engages in an activity prone to deteriorate indoor air quality.
Tip #2: Tell smokers to light up outside
Did you know that the smoke you exhale after taking a drag on a cigarette contains more than 4,000 different chemicals? In fact, there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke. Of course, the best option is always to stop smoking. But if you are not ready to do it and you are nonetheless concerned about the quality of the air inside your house, you should step outside.
• Stop smoking indoors.
• Ask that smokers go outside.
Tip #3: Keep a clean and tidy home
Everything turns to dust one day. Sometimes this degradation is pretty obvious: many people see their couch losing its shape in real time, piece of foam after piece of foam (any cat owners reading this?). This is not the case with other objects and materials that take longer to crumble. But the dust is there, and it keeps forming whether you are a neat freak or you’re a teenager happily experiencing domestic chaos. No need to become fussy, but tidying and cleaning your the place where you live is obviously an effective action to improve air quality.
• Use a doormat to prevent dirt from entering into your home and/or ask people to take off their shoes when they visit you.
• Try vacuuming and mopping floors at least once a week.
Tip #4: Keep humidity between 30% to 50%
This will limit the growth of mold and the presence of dust mites that pollute the air. Some molds produce allergens and mycotoxins—they can have adverse health effects, ranging from allergic reactions (like a stuffy or runny nose, or eye and skin irritations) to asthma attacks, depending on the exact type and amount of mold, and the sensitivity of those exposed. This is true even in non-allergic people.
A 2004 study by the Institute of Medicine found a link between exposure to mold indoors with upper respiratory tract symptoms in healthy people.
• Track humidity levels.
• Use a dehumidifier to effectively control moisture and allergens.
• Remember to open the window when cooking or when you take a shower or bath (or right after if you are easily cold).
• Make sure there are no water leaks in your home.
• If you have a clothes dryer, open the window when it is venting.
• Remember to empty your air conditioner’s drip pans.
Tip #5: Stay away from synthetic fragrances
In air fresheners and in laundry products, in perfumes and in hand soap, synthetic fragrances are ubiquitous around us. Did you know the many gases evaporating from these products are actually harmful Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)? You would think that these chemicals are listed on the label, when in fact they rarely are. Plus, in the U.S. the safety tests fragrances have to go through before being brought to market only concern skin irritations—no test is made regarding potential dangers caused by inhalation.
• Arrange slices of lemon on a plate to delicately perfume the air in a room.
• Use baking soda in a small bowl to eliminate odors (it works particularly well in fridges).
• Choose fragrance-free products, or products with scents of natural origin for your laundry and cleaning needs.
• Stop using aerosol spray products that create a mist of liquid particles (hair sprays, air fresheners…)
Tip #6: Place an air-filtering plant in your home
Since 1989 and the NASA Clean Air Study, we know that—to some extent—some houseplants can be used to eliminate toxic agents such as benzene, trichlorethylene and formaldehyde from indoor air. In a combined effort, their foliage and roots absorb certain VOCs. Note that these plants’ pollutant removal rate is small, which means there’s no way they could capture all the pollution.
• Get an English ivy (Hedera helix) or a variegated snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata “Laurentii”), which share the same pollutant-blocking skills. They are great to filter out benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene and toluene.
• Get a peace lily (Spathiphyllum “Mauna Loa”) or a florist’s chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium). These two are even more effective: they filter out all of the above, as well as ammonia! Be careful not to ingest either the English ivy’s or the peace lily’s leaves and berries, as they are toxic.
We hope these tips are helpful and have opened a window on what you can do to make your home a healthier, happier place.